Pre-Code Crazy: Hot Saturday (1932)
My Pre-Code Crazy pick for the month of June was a no-brainer. As soon as I saw that TCM was airing Hot Saturday (1931), that was all I needed to know. The film stars pre-Code veteran Nancy Carroll, whose huge, expressive eyes and heart-shaped face always put me in the mind of Betty Boop. The cast also includes a young (overly made-up) Cary Grant, Randolph Scott (it’s always funny to me to see him in a non-western), and Jane Darwell, in a rare really nasty role. If you’re a pre-Code fan – and of course you are! – this movie is for you.
Hot Saturday takes place in the small town of Marysville which, we learn at the start, consists of one bank, two fire engines, and four street cars – a place where “everyone knew on Sunday what everyone else did on Saturday . . . and the rest of the week.” (Incidentally, I love the opening credits – behind the film’s title, stars, and director, you can see a close-up of an oscillating, vintage table fan and an old phone. I don’t know why I like this so much, but I do. I’m just sayin’.)
The main character is Ruth Brock (Carroll), who’s obviously a popular gal, as shown in the first scene, which takes place in the bank (the town’s only one, dontcha know), where she works as a clerk. In a span of approximately 60 seconds, Ruth receives proposals from no fewer than three co-workers for a date that Saturday night. We’re also introduced to the lucky fella who gets the nod, the oddly monikered Conny Billop (played by Edward Woods, perhaps best known as Jimmy Cagney’s pal in The Public Enemy); Eva Randolph (Lillian Bond), the bank president’s daughter, who’s not the sweet young thing that she initially appears to be; and Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant), a filthy rich playboy. A couple of interesting notes about Romer – we hear a trio of gossiping hens labeling him as a “vile influence” and grousing about him “living openly” with a woman he brought with him to his summer home – one of the ladies, in fact, wants the city council to ask him to leave town (!). Also, like the men who work at the bank, Romer is drawn to Ruth like a moth to a flame: “Just talk to me, will you?” he urges her during a visit to her job. “I like to hear you talk.” (Incidentally, after his gal pal, Camille Renault, throws a hissy fit over Romer flirting with Ruth, Romer writes her a check for $10,000 and puts her on the next train out of town!)
Knowing that the town’s young folk gather every Saturday at a local spot called Willow Springs, Romer contacts Conny and invites the crowd to stop at his place first: “There’s lots of drinks and I’ll rummage up some food,” he tells him. “Stay as long as you like. No limit.” Before the night’s festivities begin, though, we’re introduced to Ruth’s family – her loving but unemployed father (William Collier, Sr.), who waits for his daughter’s weekly paycheck so he can buy his cigars; her shrewish mother (Jane Darwell), who seems to despise Ruth for no apparent reason; and her hot-to-trot little sister, Annie (Rose Coghlan), who is featured in one of my favorite jaw-dropping scenes in all of pre-Code. In it, Ruth arrives home after work to prepare for her Saturday-night date with Conny. As she opens the door to her bedroom, she finds Annie hurriedly closing a dresser drawer and busying herself with a broom. “Who, me?” Annie responds when Ruth asks what she was doing in the bureau. “Why, I wasn’t anywhere near it.” When Ruth searches the bureau, she finds that her new “shorts” (also known as step-ins) are missing, and her sister again claims her innocence. But Ruth isn’t falling for the okey doke. She runs after her sister, grabs her, hauls her across the room and throws her down on the bed, raises up her dress, KNEELS on her legs, and wrenches the garment off, with her sister feebly and repeatedly protesting, “I didn’t mean it!” Seriously, you’ve got to see it to believe it.
(Speaking of scandalous, once the kids arrive at Romer’s party, there’s another brief scene worth mentioning. One of the revelers – Archie [Grady Sutton] – orders a drink from a server who happens to be Asian. To get his attention, Archie calls out, “Hey, One Lung,” and proceeds to use hand gestures as he says, “Bringy two drinky, velly tall, savvy?” It’s pretty cringe-inducing. To the filmmakers’ credit, the server doesn’t give off with any stereotypical behavior; instead, he responds, in perfect English, “What will it be, gentlemen? Scotch, Bourbon, or Cognac?”)
Romer doesn’t waste any time snatching Ruth away from Conny (who is, in turn, snapped up by Eva: “Don’t be a chump,” Eva warns. “She’d ditch you any day for Romer.”) When Ruth returns to the party a short time later, Eva expresses surprise. “Did you expect me to be gone all night?” Ruth inquires. And Eva nastily offers this line: “Well, dear, I didn’t know. You see, a girl in your position can afford to be so much more unconventional in her pleasures than I could.” (Whoa!)
After guzzling a sufficient amount of Romer’s liquor, the gang heads over to Willow Springs, where we see them dancing to a song with lyrics that represent the essence of pre-Code:
Open all the windows
Turn the fan on, too
I’m ablaze, I’m in a daze
I’m burning for you.
Call the fire engine
And the whole darn crew
Tell them all to hurry
‘Cause I’m burning for you.
I try to cool off
But when you say no
I’m a volcano
What can I do?
Would you let me smother,
Leave me in a stew?
Go and tell your mother
That I’m burning for you.
(Again I say, whoa!)
At Willow Springs, Conny takes Ruth on a boat ride, but when he steers to boat over to the shore, intent on a heavy duty make-out session, Ruth vehemently fights him off. (“What do you expect for a boat ride,” she asks, “Marlene Dietrich?”) (Heh.) When Ruth escapes from Conny’s clutches and runs off, Conny leaves her stranded – but she just happens to be near Romer’s property, and makes her way back to his house. She doesn’t stay long, but when Eva sees Ruth driven home in Romer’s car, the news quickly spreads through the town that Ruth spent the night with him. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Ruth’s the town pariah – she’s asked to resign from the Women’s Social League, and she’s fired from her job at the bank.
It’s right around this time that Randolph Scott enters the picture – and I recommend that you hang on to your hat, ‘cause the plot is about to take a couple of swerves that you’ll never see coming!
But I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
Hot Saturday is a real pre-Code gem, serving up 72 economical minutes of malicious backstabbing, rampant gossip, premarital sex, copious imbibing of alcohol, and gratuitous shots of lingerie – something for everyone! It airs on TCM on June 14th, so mark your calendar – it’s a must-see!
And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see which pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!
You only owe it to yourself.